Zach Wilson, New York Jets
Zach Wilson, New York Jets, Getty Images

The Jets have legitimate offensive weapons that have been underutilized thus far

He’s back.

The New York Jets will finally get to see Zach Wilson at the helm in Week 4 of the 2022 season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Wilson’s return comes as his offensive line is beset by key injuries and his team failed to score a touchdown against a mediocre-at-best defense last week.

Joe Flacco effectively quieted any thoughts that he should continue to start by showing his limitations once more. He demonstrated his statuesque 37-year-old frame (which we knew about beforehand), a complete lack of pocket awareness (the extent of which was already evident in Week 1), and a curious tendency to throw up go balls rather than take the underneath yardage and move the sticks.

Despite Wilson’s rookie struggles and his inauspicious preseason cameo, he has, at minimum, the physical ability that Flacco lacks. Whether his decision-making can catch up is what the Jets need to see this year. But he showed flashes last season.

We already discussed some meat that Joe Flacco left on the bone in Weeks 1 and 2 compared to what Wilson could have accomplished. Let’s break down some film from last year to show what the Jets can do with Wilson’s return.

Out-breaking routes

Flacco has been truly terrible on throws outside the numbers, particularly with depth. The defense almost need not account for the corner route when Flacco is behind center.

Not so with Wilson at the helm. He can zip it in there if he reads the defense correctly.

The Jets put their classic high-low conflict on a Cover-3 cornerback with an underneath route and a deep corner. When the cornerback takes the out, that leaves Keelan Cole with a one-on-one matchup against a safety who’s scrambling to get back into position. Cole gets the outside leverage, and Wilson whips it in for a chunk play.

It’s easy to imagine Wilson hitting rookie Garrett Wilson on one of those deep throws from the slot. Suffice it to say that Joe Flacco has failed in this area.

Besides the corner routes, there are also shorter out-breaking routes that require timing and zip. Flacco still has some arm strength left in the tank at 37, but his timing has often been a beat or two late, and he lacks the confidence in his arm to get the ball past a breaking corner.

Although Zach Wilson may have too much confidence in his arm, if his timing is good, he can still fit the ball in for important plays in tight coverage.

The Panthers are playing man coverage with two high safeties near the goal line. With the corner giving Corey Davis a nice cushion and the safety focused inside on Braxton Berrios, Wilson throws the ball just as Davis is leaving his break on the out route. Though the corner nearly dives to get his arm in, Wilson’s anticipation and zip give the Jets the TD.

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Mobility

We already touched on this earlier, but plays are not over when Wilson is flushed out of the pocket. Despite some fans’ desire for him to play it safe following two knee injuries, just Wilson’s ability to get out of the pocket and find room to throw is a major improvement for the Jets’ quarterback position.

With the Jaguars in zone coverage on the goal line, Wilson’s targets are all covered. As he’s flushed out of the pocket, he flings the ball to offensive tackle Conor McDermott for the TD.

Although there may not seem to be anything overly impressive on this play, it’s certainly something Flacco would have trouble doing. He most likely would’ve thrown the ball away or even been run down by the defensive lineman.

The next play is reminiscent of a play against the Browns where Flacco actually did get out of the pocket and heaved the ball to Corey Davis, who had previously slowed down and was unable to catch up to the throw.

Although it’s difficult to fault Flacco for that particular play since Davis slowed down, here’s an example of Wilson making a similar type of play.

The Panthers are playing quarters coverage. No one is open initially, and by the time Corey Davis breaks open on his long-developing over route, Wilson is feeling the pressure and is flushed from the pocket. However, Wilson keeps his eyes downfield the whole time and notices that the Panthers lost Davis as Elijah Moore broke inside and back towards the ball. He fires the ball to the end zone, and while he could have made a better throw, Davis is so wide open that it doesn’t matter.

Could Joe Flacco have made that throw? With Davis that wide open, possibly. But Flacco may well have been sacked on that play, even with all the green to his right.

Another contrast: remember Joe Flacco’s incomplete pass to Tyler Conklin on the first drive of the Browns game? Here’s what Zach Wilson could have done, possibly.

It’s a third-and-four play from the Jets 37. The Patriots are ahead 17-0 at this point. All routes break towards Wilson’s left, which means he can move the pocket in that direction. Although he is not initially under much pressure, the Patriots linebacker runs up when he sees Wilson move to his left. This is a very similar situation to the one Flacco found himself in on third-and-one, except Flacco was rolling to his right.

Unlike Flacco, whose throw to Conklin was a beat late and caused the incomplete ruling, Wilson hits his tight end for the first down.

In general, the Jets can make things easier for Wilson by rolling the pocket away from pressure. They’ve done so sparingly with Flacco due to his overall limited mobility, but Wilson can make those plays.

Zone beaters

After Flacco’s game-winning touchdown pass against the Browns, some Jets fans were claiming that Zach Wilson “never” could have made that throw. But that’s inaccurate; he showed his ability to make perfectly-timed throws into zone coverage.

Post-snap, Wilson reads Jordan Whitehead breaking into the deep third of the field, indicating a Cover-3. That cues him in to look at the dagger concept that the Jets are running with Jeff Smith and the tight end (on the top of the screen). Wilson lets it rip and throws a perfect strike to Smith between the linebacker and safety.

On the following play, the Bucs are playing quarters coverage. Wilson sees the weak side safety peeking across the field at the snap. The Jets are in a 3×1, and the safety peeks at the strong side of the formation.

Wilson knows he has a very small window on this play, so he hurries up his three-step drop and rips it before the safety can recover.

While these are not the same plays as the Flacco-to-Wilson game-winner, they demonstrate that Zach absolutely can read zone coverage and beat it with his rhythm and arm.

Obviously, these plays are cherry-picked, and Wilson struggled with consistency for most of last season. But with ample talent in his receiving corps and plays left on the field for both Elijah Moore and Garrett Wilson, there’s some renewed excitement for a Jets offense that took a major step back last week.

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Rivka Boord has followed the Jets since the age of five. She is known locally for her in-depth knowledge of football. She hopes to empower young women to follow their dreams and join the sports conversation. Boord's background in analytics infuses her articles with unique insights into the state of the Jets' franchise and the NFL as a whole.
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Richard Hausig
Richard Hausig
2 months ago

Rivka! Showing up with the evidence! I feel like I was in the QB room, nice powerful piece.

What I take from this is that the Jets should focus on getting Wilson outside of the pocket, bootlegs, designed rollouts, whatever keeps him moving and frustrating the pressure. Read 1 read 2, throw or go. Keep it simple, run the ball and don’t ask Wilson to make more decisions than he has to. The first inclination is to say, the knee… Be careful. Id argue that if he picks his spots and creates some positive gains by getting out of the pocket and running it a few times for 7, 10, 12 yards, it will slow the pass rush and give him a better chance of being successful.